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Jane Enkin

Farewell to Jimmy Greene!

Jane Enkin April 30 2012

Jimmy Greene
New Work  January 19, 2012

Congratulations are in order as U of M Assistant Professor Jimmy Greene leaves Winnipeg. As local band leader Curtis Nowosad writes, “Jimmy Greene has just been hired as the new Director of Jazz Studies at Western Connecticut State University, and will be moving in July... This is a great new opportunity and I'm extremely happy for him, but I know I'm not alone when I say I will miss him dearly.”

Although I'm late in reporting on the January concert, I'm letting you know about it now, both as an appreciation of Greene's beautiful work, and as an introduction to the fine artists who appeared with him.

I've had many opportunities to hear Greene as an ensemble member, and enjoyed his dramatic saxophone solos.  In his concert at the Park Theatre, Greene was firmly in control, as arranger, band-leader, composer, soloist, and as the one reaching out directly to the audience.  It's wonderful to watch him communicate with his band members through body language as much as through sound.  I enjoyed the sweet warmth of his storytelling as he told the audience about his tunes.

The concert opened with Greene's take on Charlie Parker's Cheryl, with a funk groove layered with jazz.  This is high energy stuff – the band started where some groups might reach a climax, and went onward.  One exciting aspect of this show was hearing how many voices Greene can pull from the saxophone – lots of gritty texture in this piece, passionate or mellow sounds in others.  

Greene played some numbers on the EWI (electronic wind instrument).  Paradoxically, this plugged-in  instrument made me especially aware of the player's breathing.  It's a lovely sound – are there any EWI players in Winnipeg taking over where Greene leaves off?

The most moving, beautiful and intriguing pieces on the program were Greene's two meditative prayers.  The first,  A Simple Prayer, is an instrumental.  The other links a love song, For You, with Forever, a setting of the Lord's Prayer.

Greene told me that for him, “Music and faith are inseparable.” When I asked, he said that he does view these songs as liturgy; that is, not just as music about prayer but as a way to commune with God.   Forever is his first piece set to an existing text, following the rhythms, meanings and emotions of a text that I would find particularly challenging, since there is no regular metre, rhyme or pattern.  As the song, featuring flexible, powerful vocalist Sheena Rattai, flowed through all its varied jazz expressions, it remained devotional.  “The prayer just goes where it goes.”     

Larry Roy showed what happens when a terrific jazz guitar player unleashes his inner rock star – flying fingers, raw sounds, radically bent notes, all within the hybrid jazz and R and B groove of the evening. Karl Kohut on bass was featured throughout with melodic lines and beautiful solos.  Visiting artist in residence Dave Restivo was strong on keyboard, and U of M Assistant Professor Quincy Davis held it all together on drums.  You will have countless opportunities to hear Roy, Kohut and Davis in Winnipeg music venues, including the upcoming Winnipeg International Jazz Festival, June 14-23, 2012.

Vocalist Sheena Rattai gave tender, full performances on the 1970's tune You Make Me Feel Brand New, and especially on Greene's original For You, Forever. Here's some info about one of her projects:
“Red Moon Road is a down-home, acoustic folk and roots band with the right mix of pop, east coast and country charm. The Winnipeg-based, touring songwriters' collective is driven by the reckless abandon and soulful beauty of vocalist Sheena Rattai, the songwriting of multi-instrumentalist Daniel Jordan, and the sweet harmonies and songs of bilingual banjo/mandolin player Daniel Peloquin-Hopfner.”

Greene spoke about his great regard for his mentor Jack McQueen, who had young students learn through “trial by fire” in professional venues.  He introduced saxophone students Shannon Kristjanson  and Niall Bakkestad-Legare.

Bakkestad-Legare will appear at Aqua Books on Monday, May 7 at 8 pm. “Niall Bakkestad-Legare is a gifted young saxophone player who has been studying at the U of M's Jazz Studies program under sax master Jimmy Greene. A much sough-after player on the local scene, Niall's third-year recital will show that he is indeed ready for primetime.”

Kristjanson will appear in ensemble at Aqua Books on Sunday, May 27 at 8 pm.  She impressed me with her bright yet rich, maple-syrup tone.

Congratulations, Jimmy Greene – and thanks for the beauty of your teaching and your music.

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